While it seems like the health industry is telling us to rely more on pills and prescription medicines, naturopathic doctor Dr. Gregory Kelly brings us back to how food is ultimately the best medicine there is. As the lead product formulator at Neurohacker Collective and author of the book Shape Shift, Dr. Kelly provides great insider information about the importance of eating the right kinds of food and keeping our habits healthy. He takes us deep into the core things that drive high performance – from understanding tryptophan and cortisol to how they impact our sleep and other bodily functions. In addition to what we ingest to become healthier, Dr. Kelly also talks about the importance of resilience, sharing the behaviors that make us more resilient in our brain as well as our body.
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Dr. Gregory Kelly on Food, Medicine, And Resilience
I feel incredibly blessed as I’m taking this breath. I thought to myself, “I’ve got this great podcast. I’m excited about it. What do I do to bring my energy back up?” I have a couple of things that I did, I did a little bouncing that’s called a Cellerciser, it’s goes by some different names. I got some water. I was more from the place of habit was going to reach for coffee, even though I typically only have one a day, I was going to go get another one and I stopped myself from doing that. I’m glad that I didn’t because my energy is just fine. I need to hydrate. I was dehydrated and so many times that’s a big issue for me and for a lot of other folks. We aren’t hydrating ourselves well enough.
We’ll get into that during this conversation a little bit, but in the moment I feel grateful that my body feels great. My mind is open, lucid, and my heart is open to the conversation I get to have with a wonderful friend, Dr. Gregory Kelly, somebody I’m going to introduce. I’ll read a little bit of his bio to you, then dig right in. I’ll say before I do that, the company that Dr. Kelly works with is a company I’m familiar with. We have common friends and some of you may have heard there was a two-part podcast I did with a gentleman that was one of the Cofounders of the Neurohacker Collective, Daniel Schmachtenberger. We had an interesting conversation. I know Daniel personally, he’s just a wonderful human being and a brilliant mind as putting it mildly. Dr. Gregory Kelly is cut from that same cloth. He’s a Naturopathic Physician, ND as it’s called.
He’s the lead product formulator at Neurohacker Collective and the author of the book Shape Shift. He was the editor of the journal Alternative Medicine Review and has been an instructor at the University of Bridgeport in the College of Naturopathic Medicine, where he taught classes in Advanced Clinical Nutrition, Counseling Skills and Doctor-Patient Relationships. Dr. Kelly has published numerous articles on various aspects of natural medicine and nutrition, contributed three chapters to the Textbook of Natural Medicine and has more than 30 journal articles indexed on Pubmed. His areas of special interest and expertise include nootropics, anti-aging and regenerative medicine, weight management and the chronobiology of performance and health. Greg, thank you so much for being on the show. It’s a pleasure to have you.
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
What’s something that’s not written in that bio that you would love for people to know about you?
What pops to mind that’s not in there is I served in the military before shifting into healthcare. That was something that’s shaped both my understanding of working with groups of people and how hard it was an example to get people to change their habits, to pivot into new better behaviors. Another thing is that I’ve always been a beach person. I grew up in a little fishing lobster town in New England and fortunately, I’ve got to spend almost my entire life somewhere close to the ocean. It’s not part of the bio, but it’s definitely part of who Greg is.
I didn’t know that about you. Where in New England?
I grew up in a town called Scituate, which is a little South of Boston, North of Plymouth. At that time, it was transitioning from having a lot of what we would think Memorial Day to Labor Day people, the summer crowd and the house that my parents bought was from my grandparents. They were classic summer people. We were among the only people year-round in the beach neighborhood when I was a kid, so it was a great place to grow up back then.
Interestingly enough, we have a friend that is staying with us. She’s a friend and a business partner of ours. She’s from Sudbury, but I know that she and a girlfriend of hers had a house in Scituate that they bought as an investment property and renovated and I think eventually sold. We’re big New England people ourselves. We live same as you on the West Coast, we’re Southern California. Every summer, we go back to the vineyard and spend time there. My dad lives in Western Massachusetts. My wife and I, we met in college at the UMass Amherst, so a lot of New England connection, a lot of our lives spent in those parts.
My undergraduate was at Worcester Polytech and I graduated in ‘84, but most of the Kelly clan, all my siblings went to Umass Amherst, so I made lots of trips out there.
Let’s dig into this life of yours because you’ve certainly both span these two coasts of growing up, being in the northeast and then living in Southern California. There are some pivot stories along that path, I’m sure. Did it start in the navy? Is that what branch of the military you were a part of?
I don’t know where it came from, but if you’d asked me as a junior high student what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would’ve said, “I want to be in the Navy.” I don’t know where that got written in, but that was something all through high school that I was passionate about. I was fortunate enough to get a Navy ROTC scholarship at Worcester Polytech, WPI. When I graduated at that point, owed four years of active service and the first place they sent me was Coronado, which is the little island right across from downtown San Diego, and from there to Pearl Harbor. I get to spend a good chunk of my active duty service between San Diego and Hawaii, lovely places.
At one point give us a little bit of background in terms of your pivot. You’re in the military and I’m not sure, it sounded you were looking to make a career of it, but it was a slice of your life. What was happening there and how did you get into becoming a naturopathic doctor?
One of those almost baby steps at the beginning and then a big pivot. What happened initially when I first got to California, in the Navy, I was for the first time in my life responsible for feeding myself at least most of the time. In college, I was in a fraternity. There was a meal plan there. My mom was a great cook, provided for all of the Kelly clan growing up, so it occurred to me, I knew nothing about eating. I had always just eaten whatever someone had put in front of me. At the time, I don’t know if you remember the book, but I think it was called Eat To Win. I believe the author Haas was the last name. One of my friends was a weightlifter personality and he recommended that.
It’s was a high complex carbohydrate, low fat, lean protein type of diet, very common in the mid-‘80s, so that became my handbook and at the same time, I was always more of a runner build than a stocky build. I decided I was going to start training with weights. By the time I got to my first ship, I was a healthy officer. I cared about what I ate. I exercise most days. If I didn’t go to the gym, I’d run at lunchtime, bike to work. From a diet lifestyle perspective, I think in the Navy, somehow it pivoted from college very unhealthy lifestyle to immediately living a more disciplined one. I would say the big pivot came towards the end of my time in the navy. I started reading Buddhism. I basically woke up one morning with low back pain and struggled to walk to the bathroom that day.
The solution from the base doctor was just muscle relaxants. I figured, “That doesn’t make sense. What caused it? That’s certainly not going to correct it.” I took out a book on self-help that had chapters on chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine, all kinds of things that quite frankly at that point I’d never heard of. That was the big pivot. It opened me up to this world of medicine that I didn’t know existed. At that time I shifted to being a vegetarian, being somewhat of a Buddhist in terms of meditating and the fit in the Navy. You can imagine it wasn’t as good.
Probably not such a great fit at home either, right?
My poor mom when I would come back to visit, the default was Eggplant Parmesan.
The degree to which the medical profession itself is behind the times when it comes to nutrition. I forget who it was that’s credited with saying, “Food is medicine,” and it goes back ways. I remember hearing it for the first time out of my dad’s mouth, who is repeating something he heard when he was studying with somebody a gentleman by the name of Michio Kushi, who has something an institute he created called the Kushi Institute in Western Massachusetts. It’s macrobiotic diet, and my dad got involved in that pretty heavily for a bunch of years and was totally macrobiotic diet for a while. He’s a tall guy, 6’1” or 6’2” and always was over 200 pounds and he was 175 pounds. He’s lean body mass and very little body fat, but he was healthy and into his 60s, 70s. He’s I think 82 and not entirely on a macrobiotic diet any longer. He lost a lot of mass from that diet, but it was great. I remember growing up hearing about those things. I take it that this was not something you necessarily heard a lot about when you were growing up.
I would say my dad was an engineer. We worked at a shipyard and then eventually on a big engineering company. We were what you would think of as your standard 1970s Irish Catholic, Boston family. I think of the term “mental models” oftentimes how we think about things, the framework that we have is super important. If you’d ask me when I was in the Navy what had medicine do, I would say, “If you’re sick, the pill that you take goes in and fixes something.” I had a super naive mental model about it and my first experience of things was when I had the backache. I realized my naive idea of what was going on was completely wrong. Medicine’s come a long way, but there are still a lot of people out there that would have a mental model similar to what I had. This idea that somehow, “Don’t worry about it, someone will give you something, I’ll fix you.”
The degree to which we’re relying on pills, prescription medicines and drugs, etc, has only increased. The pharmaceutical industry is doing pretty good. Nobody’s going to cry for the pharmaceutical industry when they certainly seem to be more medicines and pills to solve seemingly every ache and pain in the human body. I’d love to go back to that statement, “Food is medicine,” get your thoughts on that. How much do you believe that there is a correlation between that or there’s truth in that statement? I’ve grown up believing it. I don’t know that I’ve always lived that way by what I’ve put my mouth.
This might get a little too technical. Part of our brain, there’s an area called the hypothalamus that regulates all our basic needs, basically survival. Our appetite, thirst, body temperature, sex drive, sleep needs, and body clock all are literally located in this tiny part of the brain. Any of those core, so that’s six to me would be the non-negotiables, doing essentially the foundation pieces. Diet fits in the appetite bucket. What I’ve seen and what seems to be the case in research, when we don’t do a good job in any of those basic needs then it’s super hard to get what I would think of as high-level performance in life. Diet to me is one of the core pillars, and maybe have all of them the most immediate in terms of its effect, when you shift from something poor to something bad. Like sleep, if someone’s sleep deprived like I was in the Navy. Part of my early time in naturopathic school, when you start to sleep more that one you’ll also notice in a big way. I think “One man’s food is another man’s poison” is another quote, but I believe they both go back to Hippocrates, the father of medicine.
What are those core of things that drive high performance? There are a lot of people that are looking to get more performance out of themselves. Whether it’s in the strict sense of performance from a corporate standpoint, it’s a performance in athletics or for me, more to the point past the age of 40, past the age of 50 wanting my brain to perform at higher levels. It’s seemingly only natural that our brain starts to perform at less optimal levels as we get older, and yet I require more out of myself all the time. My goals in life and how I want to impact the world in a positive way requires that. The world is seemingly spinning and changing so much faster than it was when I was twenty years younger.
I like to start at the beginning of the day, which for me I think of it as someone that’s a morning person. I’ve never struggled with getting up. Basically, the rhythm of our function across the day and night cycle, a lot of those things are impacted heavily by what we do at the beginning of the day. As an example in the book I wrote, one of the things that’s linked to obesity would be what’s called “Night eating syndrome.” People that eat a lot of their food shifted into the darkness hours as opposed to earlier in the day. One of the ways that you can Tai Chi that, so take an indirect way rather than trying to exert willpower at 10:00 at night when you’re hungry. The way to indirectly pivot that is to get morning sunlight and eat something early in the day, even if you’re not hungry. That starts to drag the rhythms earlier into the day. A lot of times when the problem happens it’s when we did something that would have had the biggest impact on it.
Cause and effect wise, if you’re eating later at night or you’re finding yourself to be the night owl person, and that might mean you’re eating later at night, you’re staying up later, you’re working on things, you’re getting active, productive in the evening and you’re getting less sleep. In college, when you stayed up late and ate pizza at 1:00 AM as we used to do, we could skip class if we wanted to. Nobody’s going to die. No one’s going to get fired from college if you skipped your 10:00 AM class, so you could sleep until 11:00 or noon. He can’t do that anymore. Most of us can, anyway. I hear you say is that if you were to get out in sunshine earlier in the day, getting some of that vitamin D, B from the sun and eating earlier in the day, even if you tell yourself, “I’m not a morning eater, I don’t like to eat right away,” or whatever the case is. The impact of that is that you might have less of a craving to eat later in the evening.
I’ve seen that play out over and over. Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s in our diet. Even a good diet doesn’t have a huge amount of tryptophan. A small amount supplemented can move the needle in terms of augmenting your body doors. Having more tryptophan at breakfast with a little bit of sunlight in studies has helped sleep at night. A lot of times what we do early in the day has a big ripple effect. There are two timekeeping hormones, at the beginning of the day, we have a big spike in our stress hormone, cortisol. Usually the spike is between 7 to 9 in the morning, and we have our darkness hormone, melatonin that spikes at night, usually just prior called dim light onset. It would be a little bit before we start going to bed, that starts to shoot way up. Those two timekeeping points end up being important in terms of the ripple effect through the whole day.
Cortisol, I’ve heard that word before. It’s usually have been associated with the fight-flight response and it’s stress-induced. I’ve heard it’s not a good thing. It’s not a healthy thing. You’re saying that we naturally produce a certain amount of cortisol between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM?
We produce most of what our body makes in that window.
Is it naturally or as a result of outside forces?
Naturally. It’s part of our body clock function. If we go to young, super robustly healthy, they would have a big spike of cortisol then, but low levels by midnight. At midnight melatonin would be high, but in the morning, melatonin would be low. What we have is time function through the day and those two just happened to be the ones that punctuate the beginning of lightness and darkness essentially.
For people that are feeling that stress at other times of the day, when they have that fight or flight, whether they’re worried about money, career, job and their businesses, there are a lot of entrepreneurs out there. Producing more cortisol, does that impact sleep? Does that interfere with those rhythms that you’re talking about?
The analogy I would use is to think of all these hormones almost as waves. Ideally, we get the best function when we have a big surge, but then it comes down to a low level. Cortisol being even mildly elevated at 10:00 at night, the surge of the wave is less. It’s almost thinking in terms of if you want the right wave to be able to surf on. If it’s too flat, then it’s not going to give the same response to your cells and tissues. Most natural molecules or hormones our body makes aren’t bad, they’re contextual, so we want cortisol to spike that time of day, and when we do stressful things at that time of day, we naturally have cortisol there already. That’s when I tend to do my workout. I go to the gym most days during that time, eating food into that. The cortisol is part of the stress response, it’s not as much of the fight or flight response, it’s what would put out the fight or flight response. It’s on the scene.
This is like the water on the flames. It’s not producing adrenaline, it’s doing something that ameliorates.
Once we produce adrenaline, the cortisol is what puts that out. It has the anti-inflammatories like you would use corticosteroids in a lot of autoimmune diseases is how doctors used to treat those when they didn’t have better solutions. In general, it suppresses all immunity. Doing stressful things within moderation at the beginning of our day, we’re already physiologically more prepared.
The conditions are such if you use the analogy if you’ve got the waves but you’ve got no board, you’re not going to make use of it. Doing front-loading more of the stressful activity in life, in your business or in some other area that you can anticipate earlier in the day makes sense.
In shifting any of that you can off the menu, once it starts to get into the pre-bedtime hours. What you would see is stress at night, it disrupts our ability to get into and maintain good deep sleep. That’s what restores us so that we can age more gracefully. I’m a bit older than you, but we’re both in that same age range where when I was young in the Navy, a lot of the older enlisted officers that would be frankly much younger than either of us, were fairly limited in terms of their mobility, their resilience. You and I have done a lot of good things over the years to get to this point and still have a lot, and I know I want to continue to have more and more resilience as I cross each decade off.
I want to come back to the term resilience. Tryptophan, you brought that up. I heard that turkey is high on that. I don’t know if that’s true, but I was curious if tryptophan is good in the morning because it helps you sleep at night. I know that at lunch when people have turkeys to make that joke a bit, then they come back from lunch and have post-lunch lethargy in part because the tryptophan got them wanting the sleep. Is that a myth?
Tryptophan was an interesting molecule because it can be used in a couple of different ways. One of them and the one that gets the most attention is serotonin. It’s basically a mood neurotransmitter, something that your brain makes, and from serotonin, it cannot go on to make melatonin. That’s the link to sleep for tryptophan, but most tryptophan actually goes in a different path, and some of it makes a molecule called NAD plus, which is a huge interest in anti-aging. Neurohacker Collective is a complex system science company, so one of the things that you would find biochemically is depending on what time of day it is, your body will divert tryptophan to different areas, whether you’re sleep deprived, not sleep deprived. Augmenting at breakfast, most of it tends to go towards the direction of NAD plus. The same if you took some tryptophan right before exercise, it would tend to go not.
Which means better sleep at night, is that what it translates into?
Yes. What happens is, the tryptophan pull is fairly small. A good diet maybe gets a gram a day, so we’re not talking multi grams like some other amino acids. Glycine, I think we get 35g, 40g in our diet in a day or can get that much. Tryptophan, you don’t need a big dose, and if you do take a big dose, more of it can go to that sleep direction. When I say augmenting the pull, I’m talking a couple of 100mg up to 250mg. That just augments the pull for your body then to shunt more towards NAD, which it tends to do early in the day. Tryptophan right before bed it would be different, some would much more get shifted towards melatonin.
If you were going to eat something, we’re talking about food as medicine in that correlation of putting natural things into our body as opposed to necessarily taking a pill. There are times for pills, there are times for supplements. I’m taking vitamins and using things all the time, but in a perfect world, we’d get all that from natural foodstuffs. Wouldn’t that be the case?
I think that’s possible. I tend to be in mindset, someone that likes to do as much as I can through a good diet, but I don’t think there’s a way to optimize brain activity, brain performance as an example through diet alone. There’s a nutrient called choline. The eggs are the best food source of it. The Institute of Medicine, I’ve seen their statements that essentially would say they think about 75% to 80% of adults in the US don’t get enough choline to meet their recommended intakes. Part of that is because relatively few people eat eggs consistently, certainly compared to the past. We could get more choline by eating more eggs, but if we’re not doing that, the only way to augment that pull would be to take a good dietary supplement source of choline. We would find that with a lot of different things. We’re huge fans at Neurohacker of polyphenols, which are plant compounds.
Polyphenols would be what gives blueberries and red wine that pigmented color, you’d find more of them in coffee, dark chocolate. They’re a molecule of color in the plant kingdom. What we find with a lot of polyphenols, say the grape they used to make wine, they will make more of a polyphenol called resveratrol if the conditions are dry if it’s attacked by pests, all these things that are stresses on the plant. The more stressed of food is in its environment, the more it makes of these polyphenol compounds that act as its own defenses. When we eat those, that actually gives us resilience, but since a lot of our plants don’t have to get toughened up because of the environments they’re grown in, our diet is very low in polyphenols, at least experts thing compared to what our ancient ancestors would be. We’ve also hybridized a lot of plants to get rid of polyphenols because many of them don’t taste as good, they tend to be a little bitter. Even if we’re just eating a pristine diet, there are going to be things we’re probably not getting enough of to optimize our performance.
In some sense that whole concept of “food is medicine,” food as you say, it’s contextual. Food a hundred years ago, it was very different than the food we have. Food a thousand years ago is very different than processed food, whether it’s genetically modified foods. Even foods through soil depletion or what have you, aren’t as rich, aren’t as hardy, aren’t as tough on some level as they were 50, 100, 200 years ago. That has an impact on this conversation from a context standpoint as well.
I think you can get a lot of the way there with a good diet, but if we’re trying to get to that peak level of performance, then we need to do some things that are augmenting the diet.
I want to jump into that to close the loop on tryptophan. Is there anything you can think of a food that people could consume earlier in the day that would help them in that regard, help their sleep at night?
Most protein foods will have some tryptophan. Since it’s a small pull, a protein shake at breakfast is going to give you enough tryptophan to move the needle down. As I said because it’s such a modest quantity and a good diet, you don’t need to do more than a couple of 100mg to make an impact. A protein shake and egg, something with protein at breakfast would be the solution.
I want to talk about resilience because you brought that word up a few times. That’s a big topic for us, so I’d love to get a sense of your personal definition of what makes up resilience. We found that there are more often than not the four traits when it comes to resilience among people that we’ve worked with, researched, and things that we’ve been looking at for a while. I’d love to get your take on resilience. Where it is that we can use things to supplement resilience, whether it’s the resilience of our brain, brain chemistry, otherwise related to our energy or overall health, etc.
I tend to use a simple analogy. When I was a kid in the late ‘60s, there was a game called The Last Straw. It was basically a plastic camel and there were two baskets on either side. There was a lot of different colored straws. Blue would maybe weigh a little more than the red straws. These were plastic straws. You would spin a wheel and whatever color it landed on, you had to put that straw in the basket and you just went back and forth. Eventually, one of the total straws on both sides would cause the back to collapse, and then you lost if that was your straw. What I would say in health, that’s a fairly good analogy. Resilience to me is whatever it is that makes that camel’s back able to bear more straws in its most simple sense. The straws are everything that could be stress in our lives. When I think in terms of coaching people, the goal would be identify and remove straws and do things to make the back more resilient, make and able to carry a bigger load of stress without collapsing. That would be my complete storified version of what resilience is, but to me in a real-world sense, it’s the behaviors that would make us able to tolerate more straws.
Let’s identify some of those. This is more of my interest, curiosity, to track and see how we line up. I had a podcast with a gentleman who was diagnosed with MS and he’s been doing phenomenally well when that diagnosis was made. We had a woman that’s part of one of our speaker training programs and she was diagnosed with MS. They told her within ten years she’d be in a wheelchair. Part of her talk, which is going to be a TEDx Talk is that she’s in heels, not on wheels. In both of these cases, they didn’t listen to the conventional thoughts of medical professionals that said, “This is the trajectory of MS, you’re here and ten years, it’s just one downward slope, and that’s what happens,” but they didn’t take it to heart. They didn’t buy into it mentally. Their mindset wasn’t impacted by it, although they were depressed, sad or shocked to hear it, but the actions they took and who they showed up to be, flew in the face of what the prognosis was. I got diagnosed, which the diagnosis was accurate. They both have MS, but the prognosis is completely inaccurate. If you could speak to the behaviors or other things that create resilience in your experience that would be great.
One of the original stress researchers from a health perspective was Hans Selye, and he was of the opinion that the biggest stresses are mental and emotional. I would say that’s the best starting place. I know in my own journey and one of the big pivots I made when I was in the Navy was I would use the word unresolved. Basically, anything that a decision would get it off the mental table. For me the clue that there was something there was a recurrence. The same, “Should I do this? Should I not do this?” I know for me there was a point in the Navy where they wanted us to do something. I didn’t want to do it, but I knew at some point they were going to force me to do it. I spent all that night turning away. The next morning I woke up, I did it. It was a big lesson because I felt this huge weight almost lift off my shoulders. That’s one of the most important things, whether should I get rid of these shoes and give them to goodwill. Resolve the unresolved to me is one of the most important things for building resilience.
We were in Costa Rica at a retreat center where we worked with some shaman. We did some different processes and ceremonies which were truly remarkable. At a certain point, the shaman was working with my wife and had a very interesting thought about something, he was talking about stress and about worry. His way of looking at worry was a worthless thing when you could do something. Instead of worrying about something, just take care of it. Let’s say you’ve got a toothache and worried your tooth. What will it mean? Do I have a cavity? Am I going to need a root canal? What’s it going to cost? I don’t have insurance. The whole thing could be thousands and you’re worrying about. You could worry about it for hours, days, weeks while you’re figuring out what to do as opposed to going to the dentist, sitting in the chair and being told, “What’s the story with your tooth and taking care of it,” as simple as that. As you say, I think that idea of resolving the resolvable.
My clue to that would be something that’s eating up a lot of my mental bandwidth. It’s something that keeps recurring. Usually, the simplest thing is just to deal with that. Get it off the menu.
Let’s call that one trait of somebody who is resilient. They resolve the unresolved and they do it more quickly. Instead of agonizing over something until you can’t stand it anymore and you’ve already lost your hair, which you and I have obviously taken care of all the unresolved things in our lives because we have no hair left to pull out. What’s another characteristic of somebody that’s developed resilience?
For me, resilience also goes back to those six basic things that are regulated in the hypothalamus. I’m going to be way more resilient if I got enough sleep. I’m going to be way more resilient if I’m eating a healthy diet. There’s this idea in stress research called nonspecific adaptation. It would be another Hans Selye idea. Sports would be a good analogy. If you wanted to perform great at golf, you’ve got to spend a lot of time golfing. That’s building up skills in a specific manner. That’s not going to create a lot of fitness to help you go ride a bike or maybe go lift weights, but if you do some aspect of regular walking, regular training with weights, that’s going to give you a much more nonspecific exercise capacity. You’ll be able to go in a lot of directions with that foundation you built. That’s that idea of nonspecific versus specific.
Resilience has a lot to do with how much nonspecific adaptational powers we built into our body. That to me is the key thing that makes the back stronger. If you take too much exercise, you can overtrain and get injured, it becomes big stress. There’s no one that would tell you that running a marathon is not stressful, but walking, doing yoga is the opposite. They actually prepare you to handle other stresses better. When you think in terms of the stress response, there are certain amounts of different things that may be on their own would be a stress, but they act to toughen you up for other stresses. Those things you want to build that nonspecific toughness. For me, I use exercise so that I can do whatever I need to do.
I don’t invest much time into doing high amounts of specific training for one thing at this point in my life and frankly didn’t do a lot of that even when I was younger. It wasn’t my journey. There’s a group of herbal compounds that are called adaptogens that that’s what they do. These are your ginsengs and Rhodiola and there’s a few other, and it’s what polyphenols tend to do. That compounds I talked about. They tend to give a nonspecific ability to tolerate much more stress. When that happens, you could get one of the stress might be exposed to some chemicals that you weren’t expecting or sleep destruction. You can handle all this other unanticipated stress more readily.
I used to work out a lot at the gym and there was a period of time where I only worked out my upper body. I was resilient in that one area, but I was top heavy. I look like an anchor. I see some people that’s where they spend the bulk of their time. The more resilient athletes, they’ve got two things. One, they’re much more well rounded or at least there’s a harmony between the work that they’re doing, the stress that they’re putting, the muscles under in various muscle category. They work their shoulders, abs, pecs, biceps, legs and calves. They are much more stable, I suppose, in that regard so that they’re more in harmony. It seems that that’s an element of resilience.
When I think of exercise, some degree of frequent movement. It doesn’t have to be running. It can be just frequently getting up and moving around, walking stairs, going for walks. Something that builds strength, so weight training would be ideal a couple of times a week, and then something that works on balance. The three things that we lose as we get older would be all of those, so we want to work in a well-rounded way to cover all those bases. We want to work on frequent movement, which could be a lifestyle movement. Walking more and taking stairs, we want to do something to maintain muscle size and strength, especially the ability to move something quickly. That would be weight training, and then we want to work on balance. A lot of what you would see in retiree population is they fall because they lose their balance, that’s called proprioception. That can be walking on the sand at the beach because that’s going to work, all those proprioceptors in our feet that are going to work all the way up through our nerves to our brain, working balance. We don’t have to do yoga, though yoga and Tai Chi are great. Those to me are the three pillars of healthy exercise and I would want them all covered.
To close the loop on the hypothalamus, you mentioned two of the six areas. I heard sleep and diet. Do you have by recollection the other four?
Sleep drives, sex drive, thirst, body temperature regulation, those are the core six. Your light-sensitive body clock is also located there, so I usually throw that in as well.
Let’s talk a little bit about rituals. At least from our experience and even the research we’ve done, there are four things that we found among people who are resilient. Resilience is not something that’s necessarily genetic. Some people may be genetically predisposed to being resilient, I suppose. I certainly think that the genes are impacting us, not just from a physical standpoint. Whether we’re tall or short, resilience is something that can be learned. First of all, do you buy into that this is even from an epigenetic standpoint, that resilience is a trainable or learned behavior?
I would say there’s a nature-nurture component, and that there’s physical resilience, there’s mental resilience. Those aren’t necessarily always the same. What you would see for Navy SEALs or Special Forces, to make it through that training, they almost have a huge genetic component to be able to tolerate the degree of stress that they’re put under, but that’s an exceptional amount of stress. If they break, they break hard. Mental resilience I think is more in the nurture than the nature camp. The type of physical resilience we’re talking about is certainly able to be learned and built.
I’m so glad you brought this up because I realized that was a bit of a blind spot for me. When we think about resilience it’s more holistic, more mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual, I suppose in a lot of ways, and yet physical resilience is the first thing most people think of when they hear that word. It’s that idea that resilience is endurance. This is our ability to just keep going, bounce back no matter how many times we get knocked over and keep getting up like Rocky. In the corporate space and in other areas, people are pretty banged up. Our research is showing that resilience isn’t about endurance as much as it is about recovery.
I know when I was young that was the one piece of my exercise program that was horrible. I would do but was horrible at getting enough recovery to benefit from the doing. I don’t know if you’ve had any guests talk about intermittent fasting on your show, but one of the things that they’ve been finding an animal experiment, when you intermittently fast in animals. These are a short couple of day water fast usually. The fasting does some beneficial things, cleared up junk proteins and other things in ourselves, but then the refeeding after does something as well. You need both, the fasting and the refeeding. You need exercise, you need recovery. What ends up I think often underappreciated are the things that fall into that recovery. Frankly, if we miss that, we probably are missing out on oftentimes close to half the benefits from the doing.
This may be a nice way to bridge into the work that you and the company is doing. Certainly 200, 300 years ago, we were in the fields. We were physical unless we were aristocrats, other people were farming or working in our fields. We were much more physically engaged to create our food, every other form of prosperity and security. That’s mental, most people are not working physically as much as they are mentally, and mental exhaustion is a real thing. Mental deterioration, becoming more mentally resilient I think is more difficult and it’s exacerbated by the fact that we are on 24/7. Our cellphones are with us.
Thereby most people’s bedsides, people are checking their social media, actively posting on things and reading other people’s posts at 10:00, 11:00 at night. They wake up and it’s the first thing they reach for, and job wise, your email is a constant. There’s no end to the week. There’s no week end. What we do about it from the standpoint of our brain function, may be bridged into the pivot of what Neurohacker does and what you do for them. I know that this is a product that I’m familiar, and how it helps people to create more brain resilience. If that’s even fair to say that.
It’s definitely fair. I tend to use the term “brain bandwidth.” It would have some overlap for sure with what you’re talking about with resilience. Resilience would be a bit more, but I think of bandwidth like you would for your Wi-Fi. At any given amount of time, our brain can only handle so much, things going on at a time. As you pointed out, we’re getting more and more things dumped on that compared to how things used to be. Certain things, for example, someone goes on a diet, they’re going to typically be hungry a lot. That thoughts of hunger are going to be consuming a lot of the bandwidth. There are unresolved like the resolvable things I talked about, those consume a lot of bandwidth. We’ve got all these things competing for what’s finite. To me, there’s always two games to play. Almost like the camel game, we spoke about. We want to remove what we can, but then we want to build more capacity. Where our product comes in Qualia, the Neurohacker Collective brain product that’s been out.
In the sense, that’s building more resources so that the brain can do what it needs to do better. One of my morning rituals is I take a few pills first thing in the morning before I head out the door or go into the gym. What you would see with exercise is, the big thing that would cause people to quit their exercise routine before they did everything that they wanted to do was physical fatigue. We know it’s mental fatigue, so Qualia for me seems to help give me much more ability to push mental fatigue off. That extra resources help do that, and with that, it seems when that’s the case, it’s easier to get rid of some of the bandwidth issues too. What I’ve seen, what a lot of our customer feedback is people make better decisions when they get better resource support for their brain.
That is, in essence, increasing bandwidth, is that to keep that analogy?
I would feel there’s some aspect of that going on. For me, before Qualia, I would have said I got it covered. I eat well, I exercise, but my individual performance was vastly improved starting that. A couple of things for me that I noticed that were not obvious before was that I was procrastinating a fair amount early in the day before getting into things. My patience of tolerance for other people at the end of the day is not so good. Both of those to me dramatically improved within a few weeks of starting Qualia. What we’ve found different people, it’s different things. I have a lifelong friend that I always think of myself as having an above average memory. He’d tell you his memory is horrible. About a month after starting it, he texted me like, “I can’t believe it, remembering names, dates, appointments for the first time.” There’s a saying in the nootropic world, “Your mileage may vary.” The same thing may not work the same way for you as for me, but what we’ve found with the right nootropics or the right supplements for your brain, a lot of people will notice big improvements in performance.
You notice that there are benefits on the repair and recovery side. Is that similar to what we’re saying, what you’re saying or not exactly?
I know when we designed Qualia, we designed it to do a bunch of things. If you think in the simple terms, coffee. Nootropic is a term for things that improve brain performance. Coffee is definitely one, but what that works is narrow. It’s called arousal. It helps you stay alert, but we also want to support things that do much more long-term, memory consolidation, building plasticity, repairing the brain. When we designed Qualia, we designed it not to trade off things to go more arousal but to make sure we got enough of that with the long-term things from recovery and repair. That’s the piece that’s often underappreciated. We didn’t want that to be neglected in our product.
Let’s go back to rituals. Share at least one of your rituals. I’d love to hear a little more if you could. Our community is always very quick to give us feedback. These are things they hear other people are doing and they try out things that they love. They’re so happy to hear somebody else’s ritual, then they adopt it, it works for them and they’re appreciative. What’s another ritual you can share with us?
My most ritualized time of the day is the morning. I jump out of bed pretty quickly. I’ve never had an issue with that, but I then will take whatever the supplements I’m going to take, have a big glass of water. I used to be someone that sip water through the day and then found that I do better personally, when I drink my water like meals. I drink a lot of water a few times a day as opposed to a little spread out. I would say at least four days during the workweek, I’ll go immediately to the gym. Typically one of the weekend days. After the gym, I’m lucky I live in San Diego, I stop at a coffee shop and get to sit outside having my coffee. Those would be whatever I’m doing to improve my workout, like a pre-workout thing, which for me is Qualia. Getting the workout and getting some morning sunlight, and having a good cup of coffee. After that, I’ll usually turn to my computer and start to do what I think of as pre-work. The things that would be more in the learning category.
I like to do first thing in the morning. It’s super important to take breaks, to consolidate things. After that, I usually have a good breakfast and then we’ll head to work. Another thing that I’m working on as ritual and it would tie in with your idea of gratitude from the beginning, I saw a study. They studied three groups. It basically had four groups of college students. One group, they said, “Walk around for the next ten minutes. Anyone you see, imagine wishing them love and kindness. You just wish the best for them. That’s the only thing we want you to do.” Another group, they said, “What we want you to do is imagine how you’re socially connected to them. Imagine this person may have actually been in a class I take. Imagine how there will be some link between the two of you.”
The third group they said, “We want you to walk around and imagine how you’re better than these other people.” They’d be smarter, better dressed. The fourth group they said, “Just walk around as normal.” What they found is that people that did the loving-kindness approach actually felt much better, had a lot more empathy for the people they saw and for other people through the day. I was in the post office, a pretty big line. That’s what I did while I was there. The line is focused, rather than zoning out or going one of those other directions in the study. I did my best to look at these people and wish them kind loving thoughts. It’s a ritual. I’m not great at it yet, but I think going to be a super important one over time.
Rituals, the term itself for some people feels there’s some religious connotation to it. We use it as a conscious habit like the conscious pivot. The idea that we’re bringing some level of awareness to what we do as opposed to, “I brush my teeth with this hand because this is the way I’ve been doing it since I’m eight years old,” thing. When you adopt a habit or a ritual, you suck at it in the beginning or at least it’s uncomfortable because it’s new. Dr. Kelly, what a blast this has been. The ritual that has been most consistently a part of my life for the last couple of years, since the days when I was a lawyer, woke up in the morning and would feel this sense of dread at the start of the day. I would put my feet on the floor, typically in the morning before my wife was up or the kids were up. I’d feel this angst and even anxiety ahead of the day because I knew exactly what my day was going to be like. It was going to start in traffic, getting into the Manhattan, going from New Jersey to New York City, probably getting flipped off or flipping somebody off within the hour and full on battle. I was a paid warrior of sorts as a litigation attorney.
I was feeling that at the very beginning of the day. Now, for the better part of a couple of years, I wake up in the morning and I feel very differently. I’m going to share that ritual, and for some of you that are reading this for the first time, know that if it’s something you adapt and you try on for size for yourself, you may suck at it at the beginning, I know I did it. It was uncomfortable. I didn’t feel true or authentic for me, but I stuck with it. A lot of these things that we’re talking about, whether it’s to be more conscious about your diet, whether it’s to treat your water intake like a meal, that’s a brilliant way to language that particular thing. It’s to take intermittent breaks like intermittent fasting is something that’s been well received intermittent break taking during the day. You create periods of recovery. You’ve got lots of mental exertion happening and give yourself a commensurate period of time to relax and relax your mind, etc.This is one of those skills perhaps. This is the first part and I’ll ask you if you’re willing to do this. Are you willing to wake up?
It’s funny because you ask a group of people that and they look at you funny like, “What do you mean?” I said, “First of all, was it a guarantee that you’d wake up? Is there anything in stone? Did you get a contract that said you’re going to wake up?” The answer is clearly no. If we get to wake up, it’s a blessing. It’s not guaranteed. In that first moment of awareness, you start the day. I remember hearing it on that podcast. I wasn’t guaranteed to wake up, so I’m waking up, not only that, but there’s the recognition is you are aware of that. You are waking up and taking that first conscious breath of the day, that there are people all over this planet who will be taking their very last breath in that moment. It is in fact, a holy moment.
If for nothing else in your life that you could be grateful for and appreciative of, that breadth is a good one right then and there, that you’ve got a new day. For whatever reason, whether you believe it’s because you’ve been given an assignment, that’s how I look at it. I’m here for another day for a very specific reason even if I’m not sure what that is, so you can be grateful in that moment. Take ten seconds, this is a ten-second waking ritual. You can do it from the bed. You can do it when your feet hit the floor or if you stumble and you forget and it’s not until you’re standing in front of the mirror, it’s just fine. You take ten seconds as you are aware of what it feels to be grateful for your life in that moment. You could say these words out loud, “I love my life. I love my life.” What are the words?
I love my life.
This has just been a great conversation. I love for you to check out more of what Dr. Greg Kelly has been up to, what Neurohacker Collective is up to. Please feel free to leave us a review as well on iTunes or go to AdamMarkel.com/Podcasts and leave a comment there. I will answer that comment. I’m happy to get your feedback. It’s like oxygen for us, so thank you so much. You can join our Facebook community at Start My PIVOT Community. It’s been a blessing. Ciao for now everybody.
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About Dr. Gregory Kelly
Dr. Gregory Kelly is a naturopathic physician (N.D.). He is lead product formulator at Neurohacker Collective and author of the book Shape Shift. He was the editor of the journal Alternative Medicine Review and has been an instructor at the University of Bridgeport in the College of Naturopathic Medicine, where he taught classes in Advanced Clinical Nutrition, Counseling Skills, and Doctor-Patient Relationships. Dr. Kelly has published numerous articles on various aspects of natural medicine and nutrition, contributed three chapters to the Textbook of Natural Medicine, and has more than 30 journal articles indexed on Pubmed. His areas of special interest and expertise include nootropics, anti-aging and regenerative medicine, weight management, and the chronobiology of performance and health.